John Smith in Jamestown



Captain Smith implored the settlers to plant and sow that they might have plenty and be happy, without the aid of the Indians, who, chiefly through the exertions of Pocahontas, were sending them supplies. But they would not listen to the wise man, and at length, in the early summer of that year, he turned from Jamestown in disgust, and with a few of the more sensible men he went in an open boat to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its numerous tributaries. In the space of three months, he made two voyages. During the first he went up the Potomac River to the Falls near George-town, and up the Rappahannock to the Falls near Fredericksburg, and then returned to Jamestown. During the second voyage he went up the Patapsco to the site of Baltimore and up the narrower part of Chesapeake Bay into the Susquehanna River, a short distance above Havre-de-Grace, where he heard of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy in the present State of New York. In these two voyages, Smith not only explored the shores of great waters, but penetrated into the country, made friendly alliances with several chiefs, and smoothed the way for the future planting of settlements on the borders of the noble Chesapeake. He had voyaged about three thousand miles in an open boat and made a map of the region explored, remarkable for its accuracy, which is preserved in London.

When Captain Smith returned to Jamestown early in September, he found the colony in confusion again. His advent was hailed with delight by the better sort of the settlers, and three days after his return he was chosen President of the Council. This wise measure soon produced some good fruit. The new president organized labor, and compelled the performance of the same; and when, a little later, Newport again came with two ships bearing supplies and seventy emigrants, he hoped to find among the latter better materials for a state. There were two women (the wife of Thomas Forrest, and her maid, Anne Burrows, who soon afterward married John Laydon, a carpenter), the first of European blood who had trodden the banks of the James; but the men were no better than the other emigrants. And yet the greedy corporation who had sent out such men for the founding of a state, disappointed and unreasonable, demanded impossibilities. They sent a message to the settlers by Newport, saying, in substance: "Unless you shall send us back in these ships sufficient commodities to pay the charges of the voyage [Pound 2,000]; unless you shall also send us a lump of gold, the product of Virginia; assurances of having found a passage to the South Sea (Pacific Ocean), and also one of the lost colony sent to Roanoke by Raleigh, you shall be left in Virginia as banished men." To this threat Smith replied with spirit, showing them the absurdity of their demand, assuring them that it was as much as the settlers could do to sustain life with the assistance of the Indians, and saying: "I entreat you rather send but thirty carpenters, husbandmen, gardeners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons and diggers of trees' roots, well provided, than a thousand such as we have."

This threat assisted the president in enforcing rules for labor. He demanded six hours of work each day from every able-bodied man. "He who will not work shall not eat," he said. Very soon the "gentlemen" became expert in the use of the axe, and the little village showed signs of an orderly community; but so little attention had been given to agriculture that at the end of two years from the first arrival, and with two hundred emigrants in the settlement, not more than forty acres were under cultivation. They were compelled to depend upon the bounty of the red men for their sustenance during the winter of 1608-9.

With no respect for the rights of the settlers already in Virginia; with no desire to build up an industrious and prosperous colony on the banks of the James River, but with an intense longing for the speedy accumulation of wealth by the discovery of rich mines in America and a quick passage to India, the London Company sought to grasp all power and to abolish all freedom among the settlers, so making them little better than serfs. For this purpose they obtained wealthy and influential allies; and in the spring of 1609, the Company was composed of twenty-one peers, several bishops, ninety-eight knights, and a multitude of doctors, esquires, gentlemen, merchants and other citizens. They obtained a new charter in May under the title of "The Treasurer and Company of Adventures of the City of London for the First Colony in Virginia," by which the boundaries of their domain were enlarged; the offices of president and council in Virginia were abolished, and all laws for the settlers were to be framed by the council in England and administered by officers appointed by that council. The rule of the governor was made absolute, and the lives, liberty and property of the settlers were placed at his disposal, whilst they were compelled to contribute a certain share of their net earnings to the proprietors. They were vassals, without any recognized power to cast off the yoke. Not a valuable civil privilege was conceded to them.

Nine ships were fitted out by the new Company, and freighted with stores and more than five hundred emigrants. These were placed under the general command of Captain Newport, and sailed for Virginia early in June, 1609. Sir Thomas West Lord De la Ware, had been appointed governor and captain-general of Virginia for life, with Sir Thomas Gates as his deputy. Sir George Somers was made admiral of Virginia, with Newport as vice-admiral; Sir Thomas Dale, high marshal, and Sir Fernando Wainman, general of cavalry. Gates, Newport and Somers were commissioned to administer the government until the arrival of Lord De la Ware, who was not then ready to go. As there had been no adjustment of precedence between these three men, and they could not settle that point, they agreed to go in the same vessel, the Sea-Venture, Newport's flag-ship. When she was near the coast of Virginia, a hurricane separated her from the rest of the fleet, and wrecked her on the shore of one of the Bermuda Islands. Another small vessel perished in the gale, but seven of the sips arrived at Jamestown, leaving a large company of emigrants composed of some of the worst classes of the population of England. These were licentious and profligate young men sent by their friends with a hope that amendment in their lives might follow, or to screen them from justice; tradesmen broken in fortune and spirits, and vagabonds of every grade, from idle "gentlemen" to dissolute criminals. The only things brought by the fleet that were valuable accessories to the settlement were horses, swine, goats and sheep, and domestic fowls. To these were added, two years later, one hundred cows and other cattle.

Such emigrants were calculated to corrupt rather than improve the settlement, and mischief ensued. They had their leaders among the "gentlemen," who, on their arrival, proclaimed the new charter, and in the absence of the wrecked commissioners refused to obey the president. Anarchy menaced the colony, but Smith, with his usual energy, asserted his authority in the absence of legal agents of the Company, and now, as on other occasions, became the savior of the settlement from utter ruin. He devised new expeditions and new settlements that the vicious herd might be employed, and the libertines were kept in restraint until the autumn, when an accidental explosion of gunpowder so wounded Smith that he was compelled to go to England for surgical aid. He delegated his authority to George Percy, a brother of the Duke of Northumberland, a man of excellent character, but deficient in force. Smith never returned to Virginia.





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